I recently ended a serious relationship in my life after over nine years together: my relationship with my anti-anxiety medication, Zoloft.
I didn’t break it off suddenly, but after a lot of consideration and talks with my doctor I decided it was time to try to go off all medications I’m on for health reasons. Under her guidance, I slowly weaned off my dosage over the course of two months. She had me fill out a questionnaire before I started the taper, and then again after a month, and again after two months. This was to measure my anxiety levels and make sure I was able to manage any side effects of the weaning process.
I chose the summer to make this change, when I was getting lots of natural vitamin D from all of our time outdoors. I know from prior experience that my levels can get dangerously low during the winter and contribute to feelings of depression. As the days grow shorter I will take vitamin D supplements to help me get through the grey months.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect after all those years with my trusty anxiety-reducing sidekick. When talking with a friend recently that is dealing with her own serious anxiety problems I was reminded of what life was like for me in my darkest days. I know it’s unlikely I’ll wake up one day and suddenly be back in the thick of that, but that a slow creep of anxiety can happen so I need to be tuned in to what is going on internally.
I made a list of things that I need to be watching for: withdrawing socially, losing sleep from worry, intrusive thoughts that I just can’t shake, and neglecting my own self care. All are things that I dealt with when my anxiety was at its peak.
I have to be more intentional about taking care of myself and monitoring my anxiety now. Before, the medication kept it so well in check that I could easily dismiss worries and move on. Now the worries and feelings of discomfort tend to linger. Because I am an external processor, I’m finding it REALLY helps me to identify what is triggering my anxiety and talk to my husband or one of my best friends about it. Often saying the thoughts I’m having out loud immediately defuses the anxiety. They can empathize, give me encouragement, or just offer a hug or kind words to help me know I’m not alone. I struggle to be vulnerable with people but I know who I can trust to be my most honest self with. I did not do that well 10 years ago and suffered in silence for far too long.
I also have to be careful about adding new worries to my pile and I have to know my own emotional and mental bandwidth when it comes to carrying that load. Related to this, I have to be aware of my tendency to be a perfectionist and a people pleaser because both tendencies can stir up anxiety. This is an area in which I have grown leaps and bounds over the last decade, but I still have work to do.
What I’ve noticed has changed since going off medication: I feel a LOT more feelings. Being on medication helped my emotions stay fairly even and I didn’t feel extreme highs or extreme lows. Things like TV shows, commercials, sad stories in the news, etc are eliciting more of an emotional response from me than they used to. When a friend is hurting I hurt so much with them. When something amazing happens for them I often shed tears of joy. My anger can be more intense, and my sadness more palpable. Because I am a control freak I do find these strong emotions frustrate me at times, mostly because they crop up at inconvenient times and at times embarrass me! This is an area in which I am challenged to grow.
I accept that my circumstances may change. The level of stress in my life might drastically increase (especially if I return to a high stress job) or the chemicals in my brain might get super wonky again. Just like I tell friends experiencing depression and anxiety that going on medication doesn’t mean they’ll have to take it forever, I also know that just because I’m coping well without it right now doesn’t mean I won’t need it again in the future. There are different seasons in life and while this one may be a bit more uncomfortable and more emotional for me than I am used to, I know I am going to grow through it.